Public Interest Career Day: Some Tips

GUEST BLOG by Dani Gies, 2L at UCLA School of Law

Here at UCLA School of Law, we host the Southern California Public Interest Career Day (PICD).

Sponsored by 13 law schools, it’s the largest career fair for public interest jobs in Southern California. I’m very proud that my school hosts it, and of course I’m a part of it (being all public interest-y and all). Those of us in the Program in Public Interest Law and Policy (PILP)  who are 2Ls and already have summer jobs were asked to work PICD  to take the stress of the day off of those who were doing table talks and interviewing.

The turnout was incredible. People from as far as San Diego drove up to participate. Over 110 organizations, government entities, and nonprofits were represented. I don’t yet know the statistics on student participants and interviews, but I’m sure the facts are equally as impressive.

Leading up to PICD, I had a lot of people asking me for advice.

What do I wear? What do I talk about? I’ve never done this particular type of work before, but I’m really interested in it, so what do I do? The fear underlying these questions is that you have to present a different persona when applying to public interest jobs.

I suppose  that to some extent this is true, but I think having that mindset when preparing can be detrimental. It’s no “easier” to get a job in the public interest sector, nor is the work easier. The challenges facing government attorneys are different from those of nonprofit attorneys, and they are each different from challenges firm attorneys face. You can, and should, acknowledge those differences, but I don’t think it should change the way you interact with potential employers. You should always be prepared, professionally attired, and respectful. If you have interest in an issue you haven’t tackled before, show your passion and relate it to past work you’ve done and skills you’ve developed. Public interest employers want people who care and will work hard, not people who are just doing the work because they had nothing else to do.

I know that many campuses (if not most) do not have the resources available to public interest-minded students that UCLA Law does. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me at gies2018@lawnet.ucla.edu or @The2Llife.